WATCH: SpaceX’s Starship prototype SN9 ends its test with a bang

SN9 follows in SN8’s footsteps: It slammed into the ground after an otherwise successful test flight.
By | Published: February 2, 2021 | Last updated on May 18, 2023
SN9 as it fell through the air during its bellyflop maneuver.
SpaceX performed a test flight of the ninth protype of their Starship spacecraft, SN9, this afternoon (February 2) in Boca Chica, Texas. The test largely went off without a hitch — although the ending was nothing short of explosive.
After weeks of speculation of when the fight would take place, the bulbous metal ship launched from the Texas coast at about 3:30 EST, soaring to an altitude of 6 miles (10 km) before dropping back toward Earth. As it fell, it dazzled viewers by performing its signature “bellyflop” maneuver, a vital step in the ship’s complex landing process that utilizes drag to limit the speed of its fall.

But as the spacecraft quickly approached the landing pad, it failed to return back to the vertical landing position, instead slamming into the ground. The mostly successful test flight of SN9 mirrored that of its predecessor, SN8, which flew on December 9 and likewise ended in a fiery failed landing.

Throughout much of January, rumors about the date of SN9’s flight fluttered around Twitter and other social media outlets. And in recent days, SpaceX was awaiting approval from the FAA for their flight, which they finally got on February 1. According to The Verge, who first reported the story, SpaceX violated some of the FAA’s rules and regulations during the testing of SN8. It’s not clear what parts of the test violated the rules.

SpaceX is known for rapidly pushing forward with consecutive tests — and that was evident during today’s flight. As SN9 launched (and later exploded upon landing), it was impossible to ignore SpaceX’s next prototype, SN10, stately standing on a nearby pad. As of now, the company has not released an official timeline for SN10’s test flight, but it’s safe to say that they hope to stick the landing this time.